Heavily armed right-wing militias spent the Fourth of July holiday in perhaps the most patriotic way they could conceive: protecting the American flag from from a flag-burning protest.
Calls to actions from bikers, confederate flag defenders, organizations like the Oath Keepers—a far-right militia composed of military, law enforcement and first responders—White nationalists and many others drew hundreds of counter-protestors to the historic Gettysburg battlefield site on Saturday in response to a Facebook event calling for a "peaceful flag burning to resist police."
The only problem was the entire thing was a hoax.
Left Behind USA described the event as not only explicitly anti-police, but also partly geared towards children.
"Let's get together and burn flags in protest of thugs and animals in blue... [we will] be giving away free small flags to children to safely throw into the fire."
The event was shared widely among far-right groups, often with explicit calls to arms.
In a YouTube video, Macky Marker—a member of a Delaware militia group called First State Pathfinders—went so far as to tell followers to prepare for armed battle.
"If you plan on coming, I would plan on coming full battle-rattle … to be fully, 100 percent prepared to defend yourself and whoever you come with."
But if this all sounds a bit... overwrought—or even absurd (providing small flags for kids to burn? Come on...)—you're not alone.
In an email to local paper The Hanover Evening Sun, a member of a left-wing group in Central Pennsylvania not only disavowed the event, but called it a specifically right-wing scam similar to one that occurred three years ago.
"It's a right wing hoax like last time (in 2017)... For whatever reason, they like to stir each other up for no reason. Everyone is looking for a war I guess. Last time, they shot themselves..."
"We are not even remotely involved. Let them give each other COVID. We will be home with our families."
The person was referencing a similar event at Gettysburg in 2017, in which rumors of antifa desecrating war memorials never materialized, but one member of a right-wing militia group accidentally shot himself in the leg.
Naturally, on social media many found this whole thing absurd.
@JRubinBlogger @JustWhatNowWhy So where do we send them next weekend? 😂— SupportUSA (@SupportUSA)1593981896.0
@kylegriffin1 Gullibles gonna gullibe.— Roger Moore (@Roger Moore)1594036907.0
@ungerbn103 @kylegriffin1 Yep. Gotta admit it's pretty hysterical. Weren't there only 3700 seats out of 7500 fi… https://t.co/s4UnwKnPzh— Melissa Shaw (@Melissa Shaw)1594046046.0
@kylegriffin1 @JoeSudbay So awesome, where are we sending them all next weekend?— Jennifer Steed (@Jennifer Steed)1594038122.0
@JRubinBlogger I've said this elsewhere. Spread the news. Antifa-Palooza. Date: 2 November. Place: Antarctica.— Dale Medley (@Dale Medley)1593965839.0
Good grief, these people may even be dumber than Eric Trump. https://t.co/CnJB1KhYsN— Bob Geiger (@Bob Geiger)1594054131.0
But many others were deeply unnerved and couldn't help but wonder who was behind this bait-and-switch.
@kylegriffin1 I believe Russian intelligence is doing test runs for turning out armed extremists during the electio… https://t.co/I9e3bmC35H— Stephen K Friday (@Stephen K Friday)1594038498.0
@kylegriffin1 Why were militias allowed to overtake a federally controlled park?— Renee Lasswell (@Renee Lasswell)1594037358.0
@Amy_Siskind All trial runs for November. Don’t doubt it.— Joel Farran (@Joel Farran)1593959315.0
@JRubinBlogger And they have guns. *shudder"— John Desrocher (@John Desrocher)1593965735.0
Gee. Who has an interest in riling up bikers and far right retiree believers with big guns by spreading disinforma… https://t.co/1MDNFVe1b8— Grant Stern (@Grant Stern)1593961412.0
The exact origins of the fake event are still unknown, and The Washington Post was unable to verify the identity of the person behind the Left Behind USA Facebook group.